THE Prime Minister hailed the dawn of a new era for the North-East economy yesterday, launching a £25m green energy factory that could create 3,000 jobs.

Gordon Brown was in Newcastle to see work start on the Neptune Blade facility, at former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd’s Shepherd Offshore Renewable Energy Park.

The factory, the first in the UK to build offshore wind turbines, is expected to be completed later this year.

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It will create 500 jobs on Tyneside and thousands more in the supply chain, with James Dehlsen, chairman of US owners Clipper Windpower, revealing the turbines’ towers could be built on Teesside.

He said: “You have all the key resources we need to make this business go, on a very large scale. You have a great offshore wind resource, you have wonderful capacity in your ports and people capabilities.”

The Prime Minister hailed the announcement as a great day for the Tyne, for Newcastle, for the North-East and for Britain.

“This is an area which had a shipbuilding industry that was renowned throughout the world, respected for the standard of craftsmanship and the skill of the work done here that was sold to the rest of the world.

“Now again we have the opportunity to lead the world from the North-East.

“Today, we are launching what could be the North-East leading the world as the number one power for offshore wind. It’s a huge opportunity for us to move from the shipbuilding industry to the offshore wind industry and I think the North-East can lead the way.”

The 43,000sq ft factory will build huge 30-tonne wind turbine blades – at 236ft the biggest in the world – for the Britannia Project, a tenmegawatt offshore wind turbine prototype scheduled for deployment in 2012.

Regional development agency One North East has ploughed £2.1m into the project, with the Government contributing a further £4.5m.

Alan Clarke, chief executive of One North East, said: “Today marks the first stage in the creation of what we believe will be thousands of new manufacturing jobs in the offshore wind sector, founded on the North-East’s skills and ready-made sites.”

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North-East Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a really exciting day.

What we’re seeing here is the start of something that’s going to be huge.

“Within a few years, we will look back at how we transformed ourselves to move the region beyond steel, in the same way that we now look back and see how we transformed ourselves to move beyond coal and shipbuilding.”

Greg Clark, Conservative shadow minister for energy and climate change, welcomed the investment, but said it should have happened years ago and the UK was lagging behind in the sector.